Remembering the end of institutionalized racism is a good way to reinforce a sense of justice and morality. If we uphold common human rights and equality for all, then everyone is responsible for their own success.
In other words: no excuses.
Because we are a free people, whether born in America or Africa, black or white, in a mansion or in a ghetto, there is one enormous reality staring us in the face: the choices we have made have been, by far, the greatest determining factors in how our lives have shaped up, or down.
For the sake of this universal truth we must lift up this birthright which makes us uniquely human; no other species possesses our creative power to transform our dreams into reality. Nonetheless, the most reliable way for any one of us to unleash this power is through an unstoppable determination to obtain useful skills and then, once obtained, apply them diligently.
This was true long before America became a nation and it will likely always remain true. Perhaps it is not even daring for me, then, to question the notion of ''American exceptionalism,'' and therein request the following rename: ''the American dream'' should be changed to ''the universal dream.''
Let's examine the life story of Anthony Nwankwo to prove the universality of the ''American'' Dream. He was born into a place of few opportunities for success, yet he dared to accept zero excuses on his road to success.
Although today Anthony is a successful practicing CPA, comfortably running his tax-filing business in the Mahoning Valley, he was born into a less-than-comfortable place under British-colonial rule in Africa (current-day Nigeria) during a transitional period, when the British empire began to relinquish its colonial grip around the world. At 9 years of age his parents and 19 siblings fled Nigeria's 1966 civil war, relocating from Kano, where his father was a businessman, to a poor rural village named Akeme Ohia-Ucha.
No place on earth epitomizes poverty better than a rural African village. For example, there were no public schools in Akeme Ohia-Ucha, so Anthony's mother had to sell goods in the marketplace to pay his tuition at a nearby private Catholic elementary school.
At 16 Anthony had a wonderful dream, practically a prophecy: One day he would study at a university in the greatest country on earth - the United States of America. Nobody in Anthony's family had ever even been to college.
Anthony chose not to share his ''America Dream'' with anyone - so that they would not discourage him - until he had succeeded in putting everything in order. Which he did, despite the death of his mother in 1974, and of his father in 1980.
Between the US embassy and the Nigerian government, it took Anthony nearly 10 years to cut through tangled webs of government red tape to get his papers in order. He received an educational visa to the U.S., and obtained high TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) scores, a prepaid plane ticket, a certified clean bill of health, security clearance, admission to Youngstown State University and a full year's tuition in advance.
When Anthony first arrived in Youngstown, he was shocked to find so many African-American men idling about wasting their time. It made him sick to his stomach - to think of how hard he had worked just to get to the Mahoning Valley for the opportunity to study in America; and here were his African-American brothers taking this cherished opportunity to study in the greatest land on earth completely for granted. It seemed outrageous!
A few months after, the military took over the civilian government of Nigeria and the military government froze all bank assets in the country, cutting Anthony off from his family and whatever tuition money he had left in Nigeria. Determined to succeed, Anthony paved another way to pay for his tuition by working four jobs while going to school full-time.
When the time came for Anthony to answer local industry job ads, how incredibly disheartening it must have been for him to be repeatedly rejected. He began to wonder if the color of his skin or his Nigerian accent had something to do with his rejections. He decided to move to a more culturally diverse city after one local interviewer made an astonishingly racist comment: ''What? Nwankwo's an African name? Hmm, we're sorry, we thought your name was Asian.''
He eventually found work in Washington D.C., but his wife wanted to be closer to her family in Warren. ''No problem,'' Anthony accepted her pleas, ''If the bosses in Youngstown don't want to hire me, I'll just have to start my own accounting business...''
When I first heard this story, I found myself making apologies for the actions of my Caucasian brothers, but Anthony made it very clear to me that he objects to any historical roles holding white men as oppressors over black men. He continued, ''As long as we (Africans) accept these roles we are stuck in a vicious cycle as inferior victims of an inherently racist system.''
Anthony's argument made perfect sense, but I felt ashamed to have contributed to the lie of white oppressors. Africans the world over must refute this idea that others indefinitely hold the keys to their success; lest they should never be free. When the African liberation comes, and it must, it will be inspired from within the individual hearts and minds of Africans everywhere.
Herman is a Warren resident. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org